All-Star Political Pundit Lineup Debates Issues of Faith and Politics Before Crowd of 6,000 at Boston College

Feb 28, 2006, 00:00 ET from Boston College

    CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., Feb. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Nearly 6,000 attendees
 gathered February 27 at Boston College for a public forum on American politics
 and the Catholic Church.
     Moderated by NBC's "Meet The Press" host Tim Russert, "Catholic
 Politicians in the US: Their Faith and Public Policy," featured an all-star
 group of Catholic pundits from both right and left, including Democratic
 strategist James Carville, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, former
 Republican National Committee Chairman Edward Gillespie and Wall Street
 Journal columnist and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan.
     The 90-minute forum, sponsored by Boston College's Church in the 21st
 Century Center and billed as a look at the intersection of faith and public
 policy among Catholic politicians in America, soon centered on abortion as the
 evening's dominant topic.
     Carville raised the issue in his opening remarks, citing polling data that
 he said showed well over half of US Catholics believe that abortion should be
 legal in all circumstances.
     "Every day Catholics prove that you can be a good Catholic and a good
 Democrat and have a different position from the Church on abortion,"
 Carville said.
     Noonan rejected the attempt to characterize abortion as a matter subject
 to compromise and said that being personally opposed to abortion but
 supporting abortion rights was the moral equivalent of being personally
 opposed to slavery in the 1860s but supporting the right to own slaves.
     "Abortion is either OK or it's not," she said.
     Carville extrapolated that analogy to suggest that Noonan was comparing
 young women who have abortions to 19th-century slave-owners -- a charge she
 vehemently denied.
     The panelists took up other controversial issues such as stem-cell
 research and homosexuality, but they seemed to gravitate again and again to
 the question of whether a woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.
 In that sense, the discussion reflected the overall debate among Catholics
 during the presidential bid of US Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.
     Two US bishops that year said Kerry should be denied communion because of
 his support for abortion rights, and the Massachusetts Democrat went on to
 lose the Catholic vote -- and the general election -- to President George W.
     Kerry's defeat stood in sharp contrast to Democrat John Kennedy's 1960
 White House triumph, in which the Massachusetts Catholic senator was supported
 by more than four-fifths of American Catholic voters.
     The migration of US Catholic voters from the Democratic Party to the GOP
 during the latter half of the 20th century proved to be an underlying theme in
 Monday's debate, with the conservative panelists declaring that Catholics had
 been turned off by liberal excesses.
     Dionne and Carville argued that while many Democrats may differ from the
 Vatican on right-to-life issues, their party's platform was much more in line
 with the teachings of Jesus than that of Republicans.
     Dionne generated laughter from the audience when he joked that the
 Church's job when it came to politics was "to make all of us feel guilty about
     Referring to Kerry's 2004 defeat, he questioned whether church leaders had
 focused too closely on Kerry's abortion stance.
     "One of the troublesome things about the last election for a lot of
 Catholics is that the Church did not seem to be an equal-opportunity guilt
 producer," Dionne said. "It seemed to say that the abortion issue takes
 priority over all other questions, including questions of social justice,
 including questions of war and peace, including the death penalty."
     Noonan said that while it was "almost inevitable" Catholics would wind up
 being conservative, she also indicated that being Catholic did not necessarily
 relegate a person to a particular party.
     "Maybe, in part, to be Catholic is to be curious," she said. "I'm not sure
 it's easy being a Catholic and a Democrat or a Catholic and a Republican, just
 because it's hard in general to be a Catholic. But I think it's worth the
     "Catholic Politicians in the US: Their Faith and Public Policy" is
 available for viewing at
     Boston College's Church in the 21st Century Center seeks to be a catalyst
 and resource for the renewal of the Catholic Church in the United States by
 engaging critical issues facing the Catholic community. The Center is an
 outgrowth of Boston College's Church in the 21st Century initiative, which was
 the first response of any Catholic university in the nation to the clergy
 sexual abuse crisis. For more information:

SOURCE Boston College